A Surprise Bison Encounter in Yellowstone National Park

Bison by the road in Yellowstone National Park

Imagine rounding a bend in the road to find your car surrounded by hundreds of enormous bison. That’s exactly how our first day in Yellowstone National Park ended!

Our first view of bison was late in the afternoon as we headed to our campsite. We had just left the Canyon Village Visitor Center, heading south through the Hayden Valley, when traffic came to a complete stop. For almost an hour we slowly inched forward having no idea of why we moving at a snail’s pace. Then we rounded a bend to find hundreds of Yellowstone bison filling the valley.

Bison are crossing the road in Yellowstone National Park causing a traffic jam
Bison Traffic Jam in Yellowstone

As we moved closer we found that the bison were roaming the road as well as the valley. Cars were waiting for openings to get through. It was a little scary to weave within a few feet of a 2,000 pound creature. And not every car made it through the gauntlet! One car was pulled off to the side after a head butt from one of the bulls.

Bull and Cow crossing the road in Yellowstone
This bull isn’t going to let this young lady get very far from him! Do you see all 8 feet?

Being so close was also heartening. There was so much life in the herd. Adorable bison calves were following their mothers around, playing and munching the fresh grass. Young bulls were facing off to demonstrate their superiority and earn mating rights. And the seniors stood their ground stately, just because they could.

The traffic jam was a gift in that it forced everyone to stop and observe the amazing scene that unfolded as these amazing creatures moved through the valley.

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Where you are likely to find Bison in Yellowstone:

With almost 5,000 of these magnificent creatures freely roaming in Yellowstone National Park, it’s almost impossible to not see one during your visit.
To see bison in Yellowstone in the summer you will usually find them in either the

  • Hayden Valley which is home to about 800 head. This is where we found them both days of our August trip. We were passing through late in the afternoon and early evening. According to the National Park Service, this is their breeding ground in July and August increasing your chance of an encounter here.
  • Lamar Valley, in the Northeastern corner of Yellowstone, is home to almost 4,000 bison. We didn’t make it to that section of the park but word was that during mating season they were out in full force stopping traffic.
    The bison in Yellowstone are free roaming so you could see one almost anywhere. A lone bull can often be found along the road or in any open field. In the cold of winter they like to gather near the warm springs.

For more information on the bison in Yellowstone National Park here is a link to a well-documented resource provided by the National Park Service. The videos on this page are well worth a few minutes of your time.

If you are headed to Yellowstone National Park this summer don’t forget to Pin this article to your travel board! If you have encountered bison we’d love to hear your story in the comments below.


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!